It’s not stopping with just those areas either. We are about to pass similar measures in a number of other municipalities over the next year.
So why are we seeing this happen; and why now?
Picking Our Battles
If you’re LGBT, the legal and political landscape in Missouri can leave you feeling pretty frustrated. Still, while 72% of the state voted against marriage in 2004, a lot of things have changed since then. 70% of heterosexual adults now report knowing someone LGBT. Marriage is now a reality in six states. And we are beginning to see stronger bipartisan support, right here in Missouri, for our issues. In short, it’s not so easy to discriminate anymore.
So when we look at Missouri through that lens—the incremental changes layered upon one another—we have an opportunity to change things in our own back yard. With marriage temporarily off the table in Missouri (we’ll explore that topic in a future column), the big ‘get’ for our community is job security. After all, you can’t protect your stuff, which the civil marriage contract does, without being able to buy stuff first; and you need a steady job to do that.
With employment protections as the key goal, creating a network of places where our community has protections builds an infrastructure where, place by place, we advance on the equality front.
Finding Our Allies
George Bush did more to advance LGBT equality than any President prior to him. Yes, I know that sounds more than odd, but hear me out. He did so unwittingly, but it happened under his watch. In 2004, he announced his plan for a Federal Marriage Amendment. The result was that previously disaffected people became determined to stand against him. From 2004 through 2007, while many states passed anti-marriage amendments, we still saw an unprecedented number of pro-LGBT laws and ordinances pass at the state and local levels. Bush effectively galvanized our movement, and our base became more unified, more focused and more determined. Despite the marriage amendments, we now have six states (and the District of Columbia) with marriage and a total of 14 with some level of relationship recognition.
So should we put George Bush in the ally column? Hell no! But progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum; sometimes it takes that shot across the bow to break us out of our comfort zone.
And as we have “come out” politically and personally on the state and local level, we have found that we have friends fighting with us. Because while it’s easy to demonize people you see only as images on the screen or words in a blog, it’s not so easy to oppose equality for your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend.
Victory in the End
Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about wanting equality now. And yes, I want it too. I love a great march and a passionate demonstration. But when it’s over, and everyone goes home, we still don’t have equal protections. Yet this Need-It-Now model, incrementalism—methodically pushing forward district/town/state at a time—has gotten a bad rap. To be clear, incremental movement is bad if we’re talking about pushing for sexual orientation inclusion and leaving gender identity out. But the point is, the methodical approach is working.
We need people to be impatient—it provides momentum, calls out the knuckle draggers and ignites the passion within our community. In fact, I believe that that passion—the VOICE yelling “WE WANT IT NOW!”—is what prods many of our straight allies to push for equality within their own communities.
The reality is since 2007, except for those states that have passed updates to include gender identity such as Hawaii, Nevada and Connecticut, no state has passed new nondiscrimination laws. As a movement, we’ve remained stagnant with 21 states providing some level of protection and 29 offering none.
But by advancing local protections, municipality by municipality, we are incrementally protecting as many people as we can along the way, and we are laying the groundwork for the State Legislature to finally address the issue on a statewide level. We look forward to making Missouri state number 22.
BY: A.J. BOCKELMAN